Apegga1c.gif (2007 bytes) The PEGG
April, 1999
Page 3 President's Notebook
"Software Engineering" More Than Mere Words

By Dan Motyka, P.Eng.

There are times when as individuals, professionals and organizations we must stand up for principles.

I am of the firm opinion that this is so with "software engineering". YouMotykact.gif (2144 bytes) are probably aware that with the burgeoning of computer technology new disciplines, designations and employment classifications are emerging. Those offering computer training sometimes bestow upon their graduates titles such as "software engineer", "network engineer", "certified network engineer" and similar labels. For the most part, those receiving and using these designations are not engineers. The institutions and programs they have attended are not sanctioned by self-governing bodies such as APEGGA and the graduates do not have the right to attach the word engineer or derivatives of it to their names.

In short, use of "software engineer" or a variant not only infringes on the right to title, it potentially misleads the public and graduates of such programs into believing they are or can become professional engineers.

Firms Challenged

Through provincial right-to-title legislation, APEGGA and its sister associations, and the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE), which holds the trademark to "professional engineer" and related terms, have a duty to protect the good name of engineering and the integrity of the word "engineer". This we have done by acting on a number of fronts and by some carefully directed actions. For instance, Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), with the support of CCPE and the other Associations, has challenged some of the large software companies (including Microsoft and Novell) on the use of engineering in the titles of those graduating from certification programs offered by these companies.

Difficulties also have arisen with universities as they open and expand their computing science programs. Specifically, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) through its Faculty of Computer Science, is offering a "software engineering " undergraduate program. This program is offered outside MUN’s Faculty of Engineering. Five other universities in Canada also offer non-accredited programs using such names.

Memorial Case

With the backing of CCPE and its constituent associations, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland (APEGN) has sought to convince MUN’s Senate to discontinue use of the term "software engineering" for a program which is not engineering. Let me emphasize, it is not a request to change the content of the Faculty of Computer Science’s course—it is a request to change the name of the program.

I regret to say that suasion has not worked and APEGN was forced to draw on heavier artillery. Late in February, APEGN informed MUN that it would not consent to accreditation of the four programs of the Faculty of Engineering when they come up for review in June by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB).

If it is necessary to follow through on this initiative, there are those who will be hurt, notably current MUN students and those about to enrol (Students graduating this spring are not affected). Unless the matter is resolved, future MUN engineering graduates face the possibility of their educational qualifications not being recognized when they seek professional standing as a P.Eng.

Widespread Repercussions

But the repercussions from offering a mislabelled software engineering program isn’t confined to misleading students (serious though this is). It also entails:

* misleading the general public and seriously endangering public safety and interests;

* violating provincial right-to-title legislation in Newfoundland (but by implication elsewhere in Canada too);

* violating trademark rights held by CCPE; and

* undermining the legitimate engineering programs being offered by MUN.

APEGGA Resolutions

Let me stress that initiatives launched through PEO and APEGN have the full backing—including financial support—of APEGGA and the other CCPE constituent associations. We have been kept fully apprised of the situation and we have lent our moral support through two resolutions passed unanimously at a special meeting of APEGGA Council held by video conference on March 5.

One resolution reads: "Council fully supports the actions taken by APEGN and CCPE to protect the integrity of the properly accredited engineering programs at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the legitimate rights of students enrolled in those programs. APEGGA Council urges the University to immediately cease the misuse of the term ‘engineering’ in a degree program being offered by the Computer Science Department that is not an accredited engineering program. The continued misuse of the term ‘engineering’ could be detrimental to the interest of students enrolled in that program, the students enrolled in accredited engineering programs, and the safety and interest of the general public."

The second resolution, also unanimously approved, has been forward to the presidents of all the member institutions of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC)and the deans of engineering across Canada. The second motion states: "That APEGGA Council is seriously concerned about the position taken by the AUCC in the dispute with Memorial University over the improper use of the word engineering in the title of a computer science program being offered by Memorial. AUCC’s position is considered to be a deplorable abdication of the responsibility that Universities and Colleges have the responsibility to protect the public interest and not to mislead the public"

There will be those who suggest we are fighting over words. Of course we are. However, there are times when words are worth fighting for—if these words embody principles and if a public trust rests upon these principles.

We must also be concerned that, by challenging our right to control the use of these restricted titles, Memorial and AUCC are questioning our very right of self-governance and our ability to regulate our professions as required by legislation. In challenging MUN’s improper use of these terms, APEGN is doing exactly what it is required to do by its legislation, protect the safety and interests of the public. They need, and deserve, the support of every professional in Canada in this fight to protect our integrity.

Letters of support, with copies to APEGN and APEGGA, may be sent to:

The Senate of Memorial University of Newfoundland
c/o Dr. Arthur May, President and Chairman
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, NF A1C 5S7 


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